Remembering Peter Busse

When 34-year-old mother of three Vicki Bam stood up at an International Women’€™s Day meeting in 2004, she had been living with the disease for two years. Her speech was testimony to the lives Peter Busse had touched and in the case of Bam ‘€“ saved.

‘€œThe first three months after I was diagnosed was a living hell. I even thought of committing suicide. But at that time I met someone who made a positive impact on my life. His name is Peter Busse who had been living with HIV/Aids positively for the past 17 years and he made me realize that being HIV positive is not a death sentence,’€ Bam told the gathering.

Busse dedicated the past 20 years of living positively with HIV to supporting countless organisations and individuals with strategies of how to fight stigma and addressing the day to day realities of HIV/AIDS. His special magic was getting people across the world to open up and speak comfortably about issues that are considered sensitive and sacred.

This week South Africa and many in the international community remembered Busse as a person living with HIV/Aids, a gay activist, an aids activist, a trainer and facilitator and as a loving friend.

They reminisced about how the tall, attractive, always smiling man touched their lives in different ways.

Penny Plowman, who describes Busse as her most intimate friend and a soul mate, said he was ‘€œalways there for people’€.

‘€œHe was so inspirational as a friend and public figure. He was non-judgmental and in the last 10 days his strong characteristics came through. He was incredibly dignified and courageous ‘€“ he knew he was dying,’€ Plowman recalled.

Plowman, who was with Busse when he died, said he was at peace with himself and the world in his final moment. ‘€œHe had made peace with the fact that it was his time to leave.’€

Plowman said Busse had packed ‘€œso much’€ into his final year, hosting a party to celebrate 20 years of being HIV-positive. ‘€œHe just lived for the moment. Everything was with celebration, whether it was enjoying a chocolate milkshake or leaving on a trip.

‘€œHe knew he was going to die, so there was this acute awareness of how precious life is,’€ said Plowman.

For Jenny Hunter, an old friend from Busse’€™s days as a University of Cape Town student, the overriding memories were his ability to accept people for who they were and to make people feel special.

‘€œI think this has been reflected in the outpourings of love since he died,’€ says Hunter, whose daughter Khanya was Busse’€™s godchild.

‘€œHe was a role model for all of us ‘€“ the manner in which he faced his final illness ‘€“ when you asked him in the morning how he was feeling he would always answer: ‘€˜Much better, thank you’€™, while it was clear he was not.

‘€œHe also gained enormous pleasure from the small things in life ‘€“ whether going to the circus or baking a cake for Khanya’€™s birthday,’€ Hunter recollected.

Lynn Morris, international Aids scientist as well as long-time colleague and friend of Busse said his death had left an immeasurable gap in the lives of those who knew him.

She said Busse had been instrumental in organizing many of the National and International AIDS Conferences and described him as a superb organizer, a caring mentor, always dealing with people fairly and in a calm and controlled manner.

‘€œHis lust for life and his energy belied the fact that he lived with a life-threatening illness. Indeed his fullness of life made me believe that he was invincible; which makes his loss even more shocking and sad.

 With him has gone some love and some light from our lives, but he has left us with many rich and wonderful memories and I can still hear his majestic, booming voice. I won’€™t ever forget that,’€ said Morris.

Dolar Vasani, who had worked closely with Busse in the international non-governmental sector, described him as one of the best facilitators she had ever seen.

‘€œHe had a special magic and an amazing ability to speak in a comfortable, non-threatening manner about tough issues,’€ said Vasani.

Friend and colleague, Lucy Gilson said that even in his final days in hospital Busse continued to engage with people. ‘€œHe still made plans to see a movie with me, probably to protect me, but also because he never stopped believing there would be another day.’€

A cremation service will be held at the Thom Kight funeral parlour at 12 noon on Saturday and a memorial celebration will be held at the Linder Auditorium, both in Johannesburg.

Message of condolences and pictures can be posted at


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